Yesterday Owen Polley argued in the Belfast Telegraph that David Cameron’s 18 seat strategy was the right way to go… Now today, Ian Paisley junior argues that it is a viable way for unionists to take seats off nationalism and begin to push back against a tide that’s been rising for the last ten years at least.First the nub of Owen’s point:
Making Northern Ireland more exceptional, rather than less, is not a viable strategy to underpin the Union. The stark truth is that agreed unionist candidates for South Belfast and Fermanagh/South Tyrone would not, in any case, guarantee success in either constituency.
Certainly a unionist pact, struck between two parties which have major differences in policy, would harden nationalist attitudes in the two areas. Unavoidably, the message would be any unionist is better than any nationalist.
Conceivably, Sinn Fein and the SDLP could reach their own understanding. And ultimately, it’s difficult to see how agreed candidates could do anything other than contribute to the overall sum of sectarian bitterness in this country.
Then Junior’s counterpoint:
Co-operation between the DUP and the UUP allows us the prospect of writing a new positive chapter in unionist history not merely of taking one seat back, but reclaiming two from nationalists and republicans.
Think of the major boost it would be to the confidence of the unionist community to see Gildernew turfed out in Fermanagh/South Tyrone and Alasdair McDonnell given his marching orders in South Belfast.
And, as footnote, it is interesting to see a new voice on Northern Irish politics mainstreamed into the media particularly that’s neither hack nor a salaried politician… That’s both rare and refreshing… Whilst press offices have a legitimate job to do, one of the side effects of investing so much state resources into political parties is their tendency to drown out the voices of the individual citizen…
In fact the DUP press office have been kind enough to send us the full text of Junior’s article:
t was interesting to observe the comments of Mr. Polley concerning the demands being placed upon the UUP by the Tories: Mr. Polley says that the entire idea of UCUNF is underpinned by a Tory determination that every single Northern Ireland Westminster seat must be fought: no ifs, no buts, no maybes.
Am I the only person who senses a veiled threat in such tones? We all know that the Tories have pumped money in to the UUP over recent times, is Mr. Polley suggesting that such largesse will be cut off if the UUP doesnt do exactly what they are told by the Tory Party? Were I a life-long UUP member, I know that I would respond very badly to the patronising, condescending attitude displayed by the Tories towards my party.
It is a foolish logic which dictates that keeping Michelle Gildernew and Alasdair McDonnell ensconced in Westminster seats represents a serious pro-Union strategy. How can Northern Ireland sending extra nationalists to Westminster actually strengthen our place inside the Union? Furthermore, by what stream-of-consciousness does Mr. Polley arrive at the conclusion that the Tory Party running in every single seat means that the Union is made more secure? Unionism and the Tory Party are two different things. Indeed, history shows that one (the Tories) has often worked to undermine and weaken the other (the Union).
The DUP recognises that in South Belfast and in Fermanagh and South Tyrone an agreed Unionist candidate stands the best chance of winning. That is why we have re-iterated time and time again our long-standing offer to the UUP: lets work together by dividing the seats equally, we can return them to the pro-union family. The DUP stands ready and willing to co-operate with the Ulster Unionist Party. Our offer today, is the same one that we made in 2005. Back then the UUP rejected the offer. Most pro-Union voters hope that Reg Empey will learn from David Trimbles (now a Tory Peer) mistakes.
I accept that there has been bitterness and acrimony within Unionism in the past, but we cannot allow that to get in the way of advancing the greater good of the Unionist cause. The political knock-about between the two parties will always go on, but this issue is just too important to be messed up. Co-operation needs to start somewhere and what better means of co-operating can there be than working jointly to correct the mistakes of the past and unseat two individuals who want to see Northern Ireland dislodged from the Union? I would urge rank-and-file UUP members to make their voice heard on this issue. I am pleased that already UUP members in South Belfast and UUP MLA Tom Elliot have defied the Tory diktat on this matter.
People often talk about the Unionist community being demoralised. I believe one of the reasons for this is because in Westminster contests for more than a quarter of a century the flow of seats have been towards nationalism: Newry and Armagh fell in 1986, South Down in 1987, Mid Ulster in 1997 and West Tyrone in 2001. Not since 1983 has a Unionist candidate taken a seat back that was previously held by a nationalist or republican incumbent. For 26 years our community has watched on aghast as nationalists profited from division and low Unionist turn out. Co-operation between the DUP and the UUP allows us the prospect of writing a new positive chapter in Unionist history not merely of taking one seat back, but reclaiming two from nationalists and republicans.
Think of the major boost it would be to the confidence of the Unionist community to see Gildernew turfed out in Fermanagh and South Tyrone and Alasdair McDonnell given his marching orders in South Belfast. That is the prize before us two-thirds of Northern Irelands MPs championing the Union. By working together we can achieve it. As our forefathers said: United We Stand: Divided We Fall.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty